Turkey: Charging of activists, including Amnesty director, a crushing blow for rights

The charging of 10 human rights defenders on absurd terrorism-related grounds is an appalling affront to justice and a new low in Turkey’s post-coup crackdown, said Amnesty International after a judge remanded six of the Istanbul 10 in pre-trial prison custody today.

Amnesty International Turkey’s Director, Idil Eser who was among those remanded in custody, was detained alongside nine other human rights defenders on 5 July whilst attending a routine workshop. Four of them were released on bail in the past couple of hours but are still under investigation. All 10 are suspected of “committing crime in the name of a terrorist organisation without being a member”. The six who were remanded in custody join Amnesty International Turkey’s Chair, Taner Kiliç, behind bars.

“Turkish prosecutors have had 12 days to establish the obvious: that these 10 activists are innocent. The decision to charge them anyway shows that truth and justice have become total strangers in Turkey.  This is not a legitimate prosecution, this is a politically motivated persecution that charts a frightening future for rights in Turkey,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty.

The bizarre accusations include attempts to link Idil Eser with three unrelated and opposing terrorist organisations through her work for Amnesty International. The prosecutor’s request that she be remanded in pre-trial prison custody references two campaigns by Amnesty International, neither of which were authored by Amnesty Turkey, one of which was conducted before she joined the organisation.

An accusation levelled against İlknur Üstün of the Women’s Coalition, who was released on bail, is that she requested funding from “an embassy” to support a project on “gender equality, participation in policy making and reporting.”

“Today we have learnt that standing up for human rights has become a crime in Turkey. This is a moment of truth, for Turkey and for the international community,” said Salil Shetty.

“Leaders around the world must stop biting their tongues and acting as if they can continue business as usual. They must bring pressure to bear on Turkish authorities to drop the investigation and to immediately and unconditionally release the rights defenders.”

Background

The ten human rights defenders detained are İdil Eser (Amnesty International), İlknur Üstün  (Women’s Coalition), Günal Kurşun (Human Rights Agenda Association), Nalan Erkem (Citizens Assembly), Nejat Taştan (Equal Rights Watch Association), Özlem Dalkıran (Citizens’ Assembly), Şeyhmuz Özbekli (lawyer), Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association) Ali Gharavi (IT strategy consultant), Peter Steudtner (non-violence and wellbeing trainer).

Taner Kiliç was detained on 6 June. He was charged three days later with “membership of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation” and remanded in pre-trial detention. Taner Kiliç has served on the board of Amnesty International Turkey for various periods since 2002 and has been Chair since 2014. During his decades of work for human rights organisations in Turkey he has consistently demonstrated an unswerving commitment to human rights.

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